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Column 053110 Thompson

Monday, May 31, 2010

An Inside Look at Mexican Guns and Arms Trafficking

By Barnard R. Thompson

In his Washington, D.C. speech of May 20, to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress, Mexican President Felipe Calderón criticized gun and assault weapon sales in the USA, and their subsequent unlawful exportation to Mexico.  Saying these are major contributing factors in the violence and drug cartel fighting that are raking his country, the President called on U.S. officials to take action in order to end the flow of deadly weapons going south of the border.


The obvious fact is Mexico has a serious problem with the number of assault weapons and other arms that are already in country — and that continue to be brought in, a plague that the Mexican Congress wants to know more about, and to know just what is being done to end this scourge and the brutal end results.


In a dictum published May 26 in the Senate Gazette, that offered a national view and perspective often missed abroad, a bicameral entity of the Mexican legislature (the "Second Commission") is calling for Mexico's Attorney General to give Congress a detailed report on illegal arms trafficking, as well as actions being taken together with the Secretariats of National Defense, Navy, Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Public Security, plus the Customs Administration.


Before continuing, and as a point of reference, it should be pointed out that the Mexican Constitution allows the possession of firearms.  Article 10 states: "The inhabitants of the United Mexican States have the right to have arms in their domicile for their protection and legitimate defense, excepting those prohibited by Federal Law and those reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard.  Federal law will determine the cases, conditions, requisites and places (when and where) inhabitants will be authorized to carry arms."

Firearms are further, and more specifically, governed and controlled by the Federal Firearms and Explosives Law, and its Regulation.

Yet the reality is that applicable laws, a number of requisites and the system are employed — by design — in such a draconian manner, by the responsible government ministries (led by National Defense), individual permits for honest citizens to own firearms are in effect impossible to obtain, excepting by the privileged elite.

Guns must be registered with the military, plus the military's area command must notify the Interior Secretariat (Gobernación) of each person and firearm registered.  Furthermore, to take whichever gun outside of one's domicile a license to carry arms is also required.  And then allowable ammunition has its own set of hoops and hurdles.

The Second Commission's accord, in the beginning portion of the document, asks the Attorney General to report on actions being taken by that office this year in order to do away with arms trafficking in Mexico.  And it calls upon the Attorney General and the Secretary of Public Security to appear before the Permanent Commission of Congress (the governing legislative body during recess periods) to give an update of their firearms control activities, and those underway with the Secretariat of National Defense, within 30 weekdays once the dictum is approved.

Point Five of the document, quoting Secretariat of National Defense statistics, states that in 2007 there were 5,174 weapons seized in Mexico, in 2008 the total was 14,774, in 2009 the total reached 24,260, and so far this year 11,269 weapons have been confiscated.  As well, it notes that while there have been important numbers of weapons seized in recent years by the armed forces, the illegal trafficking of arms continues to increase with many weapons seized being of ever greater firepower, including rocket launchers and antitank rockets.

In its "Considerations" section, the document says that the illegal trafficking and manufacturing of firearms, ammunition, explosives and other related materials must be fought, impeded and stamped out.  This, it continues, due to the harmful effects of these activities on the security of the state while putting the nation, social development, the economy, and the right to live in peace at risk.

It also points out that Mexico is a signatory nation of CIFTA, the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials, while emphasizing the need for international cooperation, information sharing and other appropriate measures.

Point Four gives a brief history of Mexico's Inter-institutional Group for the Prevention and Control of Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives Trafficking (GC-Armas), which is today under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General's National Center of Planning, Analysis and Information in order to Fight Crime (CENAPI).  From 1995 to 2007 GC-Armas was part of the Interior Ministry and its intelligence agency.

The GC-Armas group is made up of the heads of Mexico's Secretariats of National Defense, Navy, Government/Interior, Foreign Affairs, Treasury and Public Credit, and Public Security, plus the Attorney General.  As well, it includes attachés from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), U.S. Immigration and Customs (sic), and the U.S. Department of Defense.

The GC-Armas group is the coordinating entity for joint Mexico-USA operations related to the detection, monitoring, and detention of arms trafficking suspects crossing the border.  As a result of Mexico's bilateral experience with the U.S., the GC-Armas group has become the only official entity of the Mexican government for contacts and the exchange of information with the ATF, the congressional document states.

Considering the size and importance of Mexico City, and the national sphere of interest of the congressional inquiry, the nation's capital city is singled out in several places.  And special attention is focused on the Tepito marketplace and barrio, in the Cuauhtémoc district of Mexico City.

Tepito, Mexico City's largest market where just about anything and everything can be found, has long been known for its illegal goods and criminal activities, and today it is said to be the base of operations for a number of gangs.  The dictum mentions "… the evolution of the phenomenon of illicit arms trafficking in said place, insofar as if in past years they were bought and sold, now high power weapons are rented in order to commit crimes."

To better explain this Tepito arms trafficking "phenomenon," the Mexico City newspaper El Universal ran a piece last May 4 titled, "They rent weapons to kill," with a subtitle saying, "There is a broad supply for criminals: grenades, motorcycles, new or used handguns and rifles; they are available in the Tepito barrio."  The following comes from El Universal:

"In the Tepito barrio there is a new business: the rental of motorcycles and firearms as a package.  The main customers are young people who use both 'tools' to attack and sometimes kill. Although it is not the only place where you can get weapons, the area has become the arsenal that supplies drug cartels.

"According to sources and research in the nation's capital neighborhood, the supply of weapons is varied and available to anyone with at least 3,000 pesos [US$234.00].

"Merchants make it clear that prices are more accessible if the weapons have been 'burned' (used).  A 9 mm 'clean' (new) [pistol] is 12,000 pesos [US$934.00], and assault [rifles] like the AK-47 are 15,000 pesos [US$1,168.00].  The latter, like hand grenades, are only available 'on request.'

"In Tepito, those interviewed reported, monthly or bimonthly shipments arrive that are distributed to different destinations. The shipments include revolvers, submachine guns, rifles and grenade launchers, [and] many of them end up in the hands of organized crime groups, they acknowledge.

"'Every 15 days or every month I get strong requests: from 20 to 60 weapons,' a person affirmed who says he has eight years in this business.

"A percentage of the weapons, the seller said, come from Mexico via Ministry of Defense personnel who provide [them] in part from weapons seized in raids, or stolen from the ministry's own arsenal.

"Researchers note that points of sale of illegal weapons exist nationwide.  Georgina Sánchez, from the Collective for Security with Democracy and Human Rights, said that there are 15 million illegal weapons in the country — 'A very conservative estimate.'

"Mario Arroyo, of the Citizen's Institute for Studies on Insecurity, says that given the easy availability and insecurity, people are choosing to have a gun for their protection, 'which raises the levels of violence.'"

The Second Commission of Congress, in its aforementioned document, is asking federal authorities to establish a permanent operation and deployment in Tepito, coordinated with the Mexico City (Federal District) government.  This in order to detect contraband and drug sales, and to put an end to the buying and selling — and rentals — of pistols, submachine guns, rifles, grenade launchers and other death dealing weapons.


Barnard Thompson, editor of MexiData.info, has spent 50 years in Mexico and Latin America, providing multinational clients with actionable intelligence; country and political risk reporting and analysis; and business, lobbying, and problem resolution services.

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